For years, dentists have always told their patients that if they took care of their teeth and their health, they could avoid problems like gum disease and oral cancer.
As it turns out, it’s not so simple. Recent research has revealed that genetic factors play a bigger role than one may think.
Gum disease, for example, is now known to be strongly linked to a common genetic mutation that causes the immune system to react to certain bacteria in the mouth. Oral cancer is another disease in which viral DNA is a factor.
Recently, several genetic tests have become available that use information from DNA to diagnose and personalize treatment for oral disease. Dr. Mike Koczarski of Koczarski Aesthetic and Laser Dentistry in Woodinville, Wash., is among the first to offer these cutting-edge tests to his patients.
“Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing problems,” he says. “Genetic tests give us a huge advantage in diagnosing and treating people most at risk.”
Dr. Koczarski currently offers three tests from OralDNA® Labs. Two of the tests focus on periodontal disease, while the third focuses on oral cancer.
Periodontal disease affects 75 percent of Americans and is the most common cause of tooth loss. In addition, it’s also linked to gum disease and several other diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer.
The MyPerioID® test checks for the genetic mutation that predisposes a patient to periodontal disease. If a patient tests positive, he/she will be monitored more closely and treated more aggressively if symptoms occur. Treated early, the serious complications of periodontal disease, such as gum recession and tooth loss, can be prevented.
For patients who exhibit a genetic predisposition to periodontal disease, who currently have some form of the disease (including gingivitis), or who have other risk factors such as diabetes or a compromised immune system, another genetic test is recommended.
The MyPerioPath® test identifies the type and concentration of bacteria in the mouth that cause inflammation. It can help dentists design a personalized course of treatment, to better control disease progression and help improve outcomes.
While gum disease is serious, oral cancer can be life-threatening. Over 40,000 people develop the disease each year, many of whom die or are left permanently disfigured.
“The OraRiskSM HPV genetic test helps us identify the people most at risk for oral cancer,” says Dr. K. “It’s so important, we’re now offering it as part of every comprehensive exam.”
This test checks for the specific genotypes of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is directly linked to oral cancer 50 to 65 percent of the time. This virus can be spread through oral sex, and according to Dr. K., accounts for the increasing incidence among young adults without the traditional oral cancer risk factors (such as heavy tobacco or alcohol use).
The OraRisk HPV test identifies high-risk genotypes present in an active infection. Patients showing these risks will be monitored closely for first signs of abnormalities and referred to specialists before and after symptoms occur.
Though genetic testing is very powerful, patients should be aware that these tests are very easy to perform. “All that’s required is a simple saliva sample,” says Dr. K. “Genetic testing is fast, easy, and painless, but the information they deliver is compelling. I would recommend these tests to every patient as a part of a well-rounded wellness plan.”